Do we really care about our kids?

Photograph of Verity Firth

Despite all the rhetoric about “protecting our children” and “children are the future”, our governments seem determined to prevent them preparing for the real future. Take NSW schools minister Verity Firth…

This morning the Sydney Morning Herald tells us the NSW government will receive $285M for new laptops — which will then be blocked from accessing social media and most everything else.

The Minister for Education, Verity Firth [pictured], said the Government would prevent access to the social networking sites, and other sites, even when the laptops were used at home.

“We don’t want these kids to be using these computers for the not-so-wholesome things that can be on the net. And they won’t be able to because essentially the whole server is coming through the Department of Education.”

So kids will be prevented from using their computers to connect with and understand their peers and the real world because of this continuing paranoia about unspecified “not-so-wholesome things” and parents being too lazy to supervise their own children.

Maybe Ms Firth needs to read Mark Pesce’s Those Wacky Kids, or watch the video. As Pesce quite rightly points out, if the classroom is the only part of these kids’ lives which isn’t hyperconnected, then the classroom will be seen as irrelevant.

Rupert Murdoch is right to say we have a 19th Century education system. Our Minister seems intent on keeping it that way.

A 16-year-old at last week’s forum on Internet censorship said she’d prepared one assignment at home but couldn’t present it at school because all the source material was blocked.

“I have been surfing the web for most of my school life, at school and home, with filters and without, and I have never accidentally stumbled upon pornographic material,” she said.

“We want education, not restriction.”

In another “generous” move…

“[Students] can take it home, back to school, and then after four years, when they leave school, they can take their computer away with them.”

Wow. Already kids tend to be given cheap, underpowered equipment “suitable for students”, as if their research and assignment-preparation was somehow less demanding, their time of less value. I’d be amazed if the laptops actually survive all four years in a kid’s backpack. But if they do, by then they’ll be a year past end of life and way behind current standards.

This isn’t a generous offer, it’s a government either too lazy to collect and recycle the old computers, or too clueless to realise how fast computing changes.

12 Replies to “Do we really care about our kids?”

  1. Could not agree more. Politicians have very little idea about the influence of social media let alone internet in general.

    Australia is rapidly becoming a nanny state with dictatorial restrictions on access to information and free speech.


  2. The problem for the pollies are the risks involved. If we had something like the Lori Drew case on a government supplied computer the media would rip the minister, its staff and the bureaucrats to pieces.

    It’s far easier for all concerned to minimise the risk by banning social media in the first place.

    This hysteria about the Internet is another reason why the main stream media is dying as journos discredit themselves in the eyes of an entire generation of kids, but that’s another story.

  3. Does anyone know the NSW government policy on mobile phones in schools. I know that even the local catholic school allows mobiles at school. They better shut down that social networking tool as well lest it be used for cyber bullying…

  4. They may as well give the kids calculators — for all the worth a social-network blocked laptop is going to give them, education-wise.

    And the >$2000 per laptop seems big. why not netbooks (Dell, WinXP, $549) …

    … too much money, too many promises and no technical thought.

    Poor teachers and education professionals. I really feel for them

  5. Some of your comments hit an important point: the whole “duty of care” thing. As the anti-filter people have said, leaving kids to roam the Internet unsupervised is like leaving them to roam the streets unsupervised — and a teacher would be crucified if they let kids roam the street.

    On the other hand, I do wonder whether we’ve gone overboard in the “kids are fragile and must be protected” direction. While I dislike sentences starting with “When I was a kid”, I’ll say it… When I was a kid, we were allowed to catch public transport by ourselves all the way across the city. It was normal. We learned to be independent. Now it seems that kids can’t go to the end of the street without someone driving them for fear of The Evil People. Something is wrong here.

    @Nick Hodge: The $2k per computer isn’t just the hardware and operating system. Apparently it also includes “software”, networking, training and maybe even support. It sounds like an OK deal if that’s the case.

  6. Nice one, Stil. This is really wrongheaded and just screams “we have no clue”. What is the aim in getting laptops for the kids? Don’t we want them to be computer literate and take advantage of everything modern technology has to offer? Treating it solely as a portable electronic encyclopedia misses the point so much it makes my head hurt.

  7. From any angle, Labor’s leaky firewall is pure gob-shite.
    But even then, we’re still somewhat better off than we ever were under Howard.

    Jus’ keeping my chin up.

  8. Clueless and lazy sum it up pretty well Stil.

    Add a large dash of conformism and you have the main recipe for political success, all carefully sanctioned and sanctified by a tame mass media.

    That’s one reason why it’s so nice (for us) to have a free Internet. And don’t some folk resent it 🙂

  9. I think you’re a little harsh here. Times have changed since you were a kid, Stil. Yes, parents have a duty to supervise their kids… but we all know that the practicalities of that on the web are a little harder than simply looking over the shoulder of your child. It’s easy to accuse parents of being “too lazy” but that simply isn’t the case.

    When you and I were kids the standard sneaky behaviour would be things like sneaking out your bedroom window to meet friends at night. These days you don’t have to leave your room. And the ‘friends’ you meet online are commonly not who you think they are, and kids are easily fooled.

    I believe many parents suffer because they simply don’t have the know-how to supervise well, even though their intentions are well founded.

    And the public education system, with largely idiotic IT support staff, is the same.

    Granted, I have a more balanced view now I no longer suffer under it. I did, however, have my knuckles rapped — and I was in a TAFE (adults)!, yet we all have the same restrictions. No YouTube. No social networking of any type, size or description, unless it is a closed space — basically an intranet. So that’s not really social networking anyway.

  10. @Mediamum: Me? “Harsh”? Never… However I do agree that (some) parents must undoubtedly feel overwhelmed by changes they don’t understand. What I don’t get is when some of those folks react by trying to close down that change, to block their kids’ ability to have that future.

    In a blurry still-feverish Monday haze I probably didn’t make much sense there. But one example is sticking in my mind — and if only a Google search would deliver it. It was a satellite photo, with a border showing the territory of two different adolescents. One grew up in the 1950s or 1960s and showed how he roamed several kilometres from home to his school, the shops, the local fishing-hole and a bunch of other “secret locations” where he used to play with his mates, The other, tiny, outline showed the territory of a kid growing up today — a guy who wasn’t allowed to go beyond the 200m to the end of his street without someone driving him in a car.


  11. Wilfully ignorant.

    Don’t want to know. Don’t want to think. Just react.
    Don’t understand something? Must be bad. Ban it.

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